Freight truck leads automatic convoy

31/05/2012

A freight truck has successfully led a convoy, in which vehicles automatically followed a leader on a public motorway with other road users, for the first time.

The tests were part of the EU-funded Safe Road Trains for the Environment project which is a joint-venture between seven European partners.

The first test-drive took place on a motorway outside Barcelona, Spain and consisted of both trucks and cars among other road users, covering 200km in one day. The three cars and a truck followed the lead truck with the distance between each vehicle being just six metres at a speed of 85kph.

Overall the project has covered 10 000km which is now starting to study the emissions benefits of road trains

The Safe Road Trains for the Environment project consists of safety systems, such as cameras and radar, which are used by the following vehicles to monitor the lead truck, as well as the other vehicles in their immediate vicinity.

By adding wireless communication, all the vehicles in the convoy mimic the lead truck by accelerating, braking and turning in exactly the same way as the lead vehicle.

Andreas Ekfjorden, Project Manager in the Safe Road Trains for the Environment project and test driver of the lead truck in Spain, said,

“The truck behaved exactly as expected, and the following vehicles responded just as planned. It was great to be a part of this landmark event.”

According to participants in the tests, the environmental impact of a road train is lower than that of conventional traffic, since the following vehicles are close behind the truck and each other and can benefit from lower air drag. By improving traffic flow, road capacity will also be able to be utilized more efficiently.

In the road haulage industry, where fuel efficiency is an increasingly prominent issue and a highly critical success factor, the findings from the Safe Road Trains for the Environment project raise questions on how the savings should be distributed.

Analysis of business models for convoys is an integral part of the Safe Road Trains for the Environment project.

Frida Ramde, Intelligent Vehicle Technologies Manager, said,

“Haulage firms stand to gain from platoons, but more work needs to be done before it is possible to say what a working business model will look like.”

The Safe Road Trains for the Environment is a three-year project which started in 2009. Following on from the test on public roads in Spain, the project is now entering into its new phase with the focus on analysis of fuel consumption.

It is not long before the system is operational on public highways according to Safe Road Trains for the Environment officials.

“People think that autonomous driving is science fiction but the fact is that the technology is already here. From the purely conceptual viewpoint it works fine and road trains will be around in one form or another in the future. “We’ve focused really hard on changing as little as possible in existing systems Everything should function without any infrastructure changes to the roads or expensive additional components in the cars Apart from the software developed as part of the project it is really only the wireless network installed between the cars that set them apart from other cars available in showrooms today”.

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